Data and Creativity - A One-Two Punch from Marketing

Some people believe that if you put a bunch of “data” in a room with some really smart “data scientists” and “data engineers,” out will pop oodles of invaluable insights that will increase efficiencies and perhaps fundamentally transform your business.  And if that doesn’t work, then you just need to invest more, get a Hadoop cluster, more powerful statistical software, data mine harder, or you need to increase the variety and velocity of your data.

Undoubtedly, the opportunities afforded an enterprise by big data are indeed enormous. But why are many firms finding that they are not getting the big bang they were promised for their big data bucks?

Trying to extract value from data without creativity, passion, strategic insight, and business acumen is like trying to bake bread without yeast and wondering why it doesn’t rise.  It’s like a car without wheels; as hard as you push the gas pedal down, you don’t get far.

Netflix is best-in-class when it comes to leveraging data. Case in point: the decision to buy the series “House of Cards.” Netflix had viewer data showing that a lot of users had watched movies directed by David Fincher from beginning to end. And films featuring Kevin Spacey had done well, as well as the British version of “House of Cards.” Put all those data points together and an American version of “House of Cards” directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey sounds like a good bet, and it was.

A regression algorithm did not create the “House of Cards” series. And a Hadoop cluster did not make the data relevant to an important decision. Undoubtedly, technology and analysis were necessary ingredients to enable the collection and reporting of the data. But decision makers asked the right questions and applied data to a real business decision.

What lessons can we learn from this Netflix example?

1)  Put different people together. Data shouldn’t just live with quants in the basement. Get your “non-data people”—your salesmen, creative, writers, etc.—and make them work on something—anything-- with your data analysts.

2)  Look at your data… not just the data scientists or data analysts in your organization—everyone should be familiar with the data in your organization. Most data is just tables. If you can use Excel, you can look at your data and familiarize yourself with it.

3)  Think about context. Data, datum… What do you do with that?  Data are just facts about real things that are put into a quantitative or computer form that can be analyzed with computational methods. You should understand where your data comes from and what it means.

4)  Require people whose job is not focused on data to provide data to support their decisions. If you have a new marketing idea, provide data that supports your idea. Make a required part of your business processes.

5)  Don’t be just an organization with a data and analytics group. Be an organization that uses data and analytics for everything they do. Only when data and analytics are embedded in the culture of your organization—not just a siloed group in your organization—will your organization truly see huge benefits from data.

6)  Get creative. When you put “non-data people” together with “data people” to work on interesting problems, you’ll create a context where game-changing and transformative business ideas that leverage data can be born.

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Gillian Lynch